Bathed in the balmy turquoise waters of the Sargasso Sea, the string of islands that is Bermuda is ringed by treacherous reefs that make it one of the world's top diving destinations. With its pastel-colored houses and stately mansions drowning in lush greenery and fragrant frangipani and bougainvillea, their step-like white roofs poised to catch rainwater, Bermuda feels like a genteel chunk of rural England lifted into warmer climes. But it's much more diverse than that, with British, North American, African, Portuguese and West Indian influences adding to the unique cultural melange. In spite of its tiny size – just 20 miles by 2 miles – Bermuda's museums and art galleries add touches of urban sophistication and its many forts attract history buffs, while its varied topography makes it ideal for all manner of water sports, hiking, golfing, or just lazing on a picture-perfect pink-sand beach.
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If you only see one museum in Bermuda, make it this. Taking up the entirety of the Dockyard's 19th-century fortifications, it's divided into two main parts. The vaulted Queen's Exhibition Hall is an atmospheric gallery that showcases the treasures found on 18 key shipwrecks. On the upper grounds, the world's first cast-iron building – the Commissioner's House – features displays on all aspects of Bermuda's history, from slavery to Bermudian participation in WWII. Don't miss the mural.
When the British were no longer able to use ports in their former American colonies, they chose this site as their 'Gibraltar of the West'. In addition to the superb Bermuda Maritime Museum, Bermuda's largest fortifications comprise a prison, a Victorian victualling yard, barracks-turned-mall, several restaurants, craft markets, manmade beach and snorkel park, and the island's most comprehensive water-sports center.
The hands-on exhibits at this educational and entertaining place initiate visitors into the mysteries of the deep. The tacky-but-fun diving capsule simulator takes you down to 12,000ft depths and there's a fascinating display of diving apparatus through the ages (including a 17th-century diving bell), not to mention treasure from Bermuda's many shipwrecks in the Tucker gallery, dedicated to Bermuda's most prolific diver. You can also run a virtual yacht race, learn about Bermuda's shark-protection program. There's an excellent restaurant next door.
The most impressive of Bermuda's 91 forts was originally built on this rocky promontory in 1614 and expanded five times since. A drawbridge leads inside into an air-conditioned museum, featuring dioramas of the fort through the centuries and replica Crown Jewels. Head down into the subterranean tunnels to see the gunpowder storage room, shell lift, and armaments room. Costumed mannequins illustrate living conditions inside the fort. From the ramparts you can see the reefs that shipwrecked the Sea Venture.
Bermudians were granted access to this 77-acre nature reserve made up of woodland, unspoiled beaches, salt marsh and rocky shores when the US Navy pulled out in 1995. Nature trails run through a mixed woodland of remaining Bermuda cedars and olivewoods, mixed with introduced growths of Brazilian pepper and allspice. The seven beaches are tranquil and good for snorkeling, and the salt marsh is a vital habitat for herons, kingfishers and giant land crabs.
Take the steps down to this pretty beach with pink sand and sheltered nooks for sunbathing. It's one of Bermuda's best snorkeling spots, with boiler reefs just offshore attracting parrotfish and barracuda. The clifftop park above is a favorite with picnickers. You can see a long stretch of the coast from here, lapped at by swimming-pool-clear waves.
Bermuda national bird, the cahow, was thought to have become extinct in 1620 until living cahows were found in 1951. Nonsuch Island, just west of Cooper's Island Nature Reserve, is the only breeding ground for this Bermuda petrel – the world's second rarest seabird. A breeding program in place since the 1960s has brought the cahow numbers up to around 350. Visits to the island are strictly limited but can be arranged via the Department of Conservation Services.
The pristine white sand, a complete absence of rocks and seaweed, and calm cerulean waters of this wide crescent beach make it the most popular beach in Bermuda. Its northern end can get very crowded with cruise-ship passengers and their sun loungers, so head to the south end to find a quiet spot. The cliffs at the north end provide a fine vantage point and there are changing/shower facilities and a bar.
Imagine a vast expanse of pristine white sand, cerulean waters and swaying palm trees. Elbow Beach is it, and it's one of Bermuda's loveliest, with nary a clump of seaweed in sight. The beach is flanked by exclusive resorts, but most of it is public territory. Sometimes the waves get choppy and kitesurfers take over.